Gender Differences in Weight Loss

Understanding the different motivators and barriers men and women encounter during weight loss may help both achieve lasting weight loss, as individuals and as a couple.
Gender Differences in Weight Loss
Although weight loss is a common goal, men and women have different motivators and barriers during the weight-loss process. Identifying and understanding the similarities and differences may help men and women achieve lasting weight loss, as individuals and as couples.

Men Motivators and Barriers
A key motivator for men is exercise. Men, in general, are more likely than women to increase their physical activity rather than make changes to their diet when trying to lose weight. Additional motivators include losing weight faster and having more realistic weight-loss goals than women.1

Another motivator more specific to mento start losing weight is after undergoing a medical event (e.g. heart attack or doctor recommending weight loss). In a study looking at participants in the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR), a database of people who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept if off for at least one year, it was found that those who started working to lose weight as a reaction to a medical event were more likely to be men. These people were able to lose more weight and keep it off better than those who mentioned another or no trigger to lose weight.2

Men also have different barriers to weight loss. For example, men are less likely to identify themselves as overweight and are much less like than women to take action to lose weight.3 Some men also tend to overeat in response to positive emotions and social settings (e.g. at the ballgame or poker party).

Women Motivators and Barriers
Women in general are more motivated to lose weight. Some key motivators include the societal pressure to be thin and a greater concern with appearance. Women also tend to be more health conscious4 and more knowledgeable about food and nutrition.5

Some key barriers for some women include difficulty with being physically active and unrealistic weight-loss goals. Some women also eat in response to negative emotions. For example, a 2005 study found that women were more likely than men to indulge in high calorie foods like candy and cookies to improve mood and also reported that while it makes them feel better temporarily, they also feel guiltier afterwards.6

Additional barriers include the childbearing years and menopause, as they are vulnerable times for weight gain that men never experience.

Bottom Line - Men and women face different motivators and barriers. Understanding these differences and supporting each other's approach is important for successful weight loss.

View footnotes


Other Science Library topics:

Men, Weight and Health: Gain a Little, Lose a Lot

Emotional Eating


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3 Rand CSW, Resnick JL. The "good enough" body size as judged by people of varying age and weight. Obes Res 2000;8:309-16.

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